The bitter internecine rivalries and conflicts smoldering beneath the surface emerge in Hillel Mittelpunkt’s The Wolves, their venom permeating all aspects of life, the political and the private. Mittelpunkt captures the rhythm and cadence of political and family life in an emotionally charged drama infused with wit, humor, and outstanding performances.
Set in 1978, a year after the dramatic political shift in Israel that brought the Likud Party to power for the first time, the play focuses on the widowed Ze’eva (Tiki Dayan) and her family. Struggling to keep their farm from going under financially, the widowed Ze’eva, a loyal Revisionist since before the establishment of the State of Israel, cannot enjoy the fruits of the political victory. Scorned by her Labor Party neighbors for so many years, Ze’eva is also shunned by the members of her own ‘tribe’ – her comrades from the underground Etzel and Lehi movements. Her name means ‘wolf’ in Hebrew, and Tiki Dayan embodies the implied cunning and ferocity with every fiber of her being in a magnificent performance.
Exuding a lively warmth and energy, Ze’eva manages and manipulates everyone around her, revising her version of events according to the needs of the moment; veracity is not essential to the survival of the flexible. Ze’eva’s name is a reference to Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the Revisionist leader and writer. His poem, Two Banks to the Jordan, with its vision of a greater Israel, expanding to include both banks of the river, is the anthem of the right wing, and serves as the play’s musical refrain.
Ze’eva has two sons: Dov and Neri. Alon Dahan delivers a sensitive, complex, portrayal of Dov, the older brother who remained home on the farm, raising and attempting to sell the flowers they grow in their greenhouses. Dov is pragmatic, he makes the responsible choices, and for the most part sees things as they are, unembellished by wishful thinking. Yet he harbors his own dreams and illusions, which Dahan expresses in an understated manner that is quite poignant, such as his slow, shy smile on entering the house and finding Yaira (Tamar Keenan) there. Yaira is the girlfriend that handsome, slick, younger brother Neri (Dan Shapira) left behind when he married an American, left the country and never looked back. Her life has been set on ‘pause’ ever since, and Keenan brings an authenticity to this role.
Shapira is mercurial as Neri, very much Ze’eva’s son in his sense of spin. The play opens on the eve of a memorial service for Abraham, Ze’eva’s late husband, a memorial that Dov knows no one except family will attend, because no one ever does. Suddenly, after an absence of years, Neri shows up, and sets everything in motion. Shapira’s portrayal of Neri’s smiling countenance, his sincere enthusiasm, amiable plasticity and the ease with which he discards the inconvenient, are a delight to behold, the kind of delight that sends chills up the spine – Neri is a politician all the way.
Representing the older generation, are Yossi Kantz as Amidor, Yaira’s father, Ze’eva’s one remaining friend, and Itzhak Hezkia, Ze’eva’s musician brother. Kantz is admirable in this role, portraying the political sideliner living mainly in the past, with his head in the party archive he manages, he cannot always see what is right in front of him. Yet watch him in the final scene of the play, a representative of the old school, the founding generation of the right, his body language and countenance express volumes.
Hezkia is touching, honest and elegant as Shneur the homosexual musician uncle, the outcast among outcasts. His memories evoke the atmosphere of the days of the British Mandate, and the relationships less spoken of in history books.
A wry humorous note may be found in the student, portrayed with youthful candor by Evelyn Genis, hired to play the accordion at the memorial service. The daughter of a Labor Movement family, she is utterly unfamiliar with the anthemic Two Banks to the Jordan – but she will learn. In her blue skirt, white blouse and white ankle socks (kudos to costume designer Raz Leshem) she evokes an era long gone, an almost mythical past.
Written and directed by Hillel Mitelpunkt; Set: Alexandra Nari; Costumes: Raz Leshem; Music: Shefi Yishay; Lighting: Adi Shimroni; Assistant director: Cnaan Eliel; Cast: Tiki Dayan (Ze’eva), Alon Dahan (Dov), Dan Shapira (Nerik), Itzhak Hezkia (Shneur), Yossi Kantz (Amidor), Tamar Keenan (Yaira), Evelyn Genis (Student).